Whether using meltprobes, mechanical drills, or hybrid approaches, Europa ice penetration systems will likely utilize tether to provide data communication to the lander, and possibly power from it. Our innovation, Pulsed Waveguide Latency Spectral Receptor, PWLSR, leverages such tethered approaches to ice penetration. Adding a single dispersive optical fiber cable, PWLSR turns the tether into a spectrometer that obtains time-correlated in-situ spectroscopy information aboard Europa iceprobes. PWLSR is a cost-effective way to enhance the science return of subsurface Europa missions: it adds just 2 kg and 2,000 cc to the iceprobe and a 0.2 mm fiber cable to the tether, and returns compositional information of the subsurface as the iceprobe advances through the ice.
PWLSR focuses laser light into the the ice, collects scattered and re-emitted photons, and launches them into a dispersive optical fiber integrated into the tether connecting iceprobe and lander. The fiber is terminated in a retroflector at the surface end of the tether which reflects light back into the fiber. Photons return to the iceprobe, where they are routed into a detector and analyzed. Results are compressed and transmitted to lander using tethered and/or free-space communication system. PWLSR fiber cable can be split into several segments, linked by fiber-optic connectors. This way, it can be housed into several spool bays that can be sequentially left behind in the ice once a spool is depleted.
PWLSR combines, for the first time, deep subsurface access and laser spectroscopy to build a scientific instrument that addresses scientific objectives of future landed science missions to Ocean Worlds, particularly Europa. Developing PWLSR is a key, risk-reducing effort that paves the way for maturation of the instrument towards flight while also stimulating technological innovation both for commercial and federal use beyond planetary exploration.
PWLSR enables NASA's search for life by providing new sensing capabilities to Europa ice penetration platforms currently under development (e.g. SLUSH, Cryobot), which require instruments to be housed inside them. PWLSR has potential to become a critical new instrument in NASA’s effort to detect evidence of life, especially extant life, in the ocean worlds of the outer solar system by providing in-situ analysis of subsurface ice and, if integrated with an ocean explorer, subsurface liquid water bodies as well.
The technology is directly applicable to deep ocean research (packed into ROV to perform laser spectroscopic sensing), resource exploration and development industries (in-situ downhole fluid analysis for the exploration and development of oil and gas and subsurface materials during exploration drilling in mining), and scientific end environmental drilling (environmental evaluation or remediation).